by B.B. Pelletier
I have bad weather for the next several days, so I’m putting the Logun S-16s on hold. I’ll get back to it when I can. Today I’m taking a fun excursion into the bizarre with a big bore catapult gun – the Hodges.
Fine Hodges catapult gun, patented in 1849.
What is a catapult gun?
A catapult is another name for a slingshot, so a catapult GUN is a gun that propels its bullet by means of a built-in slingshot. We’ve looked at catapult guns before when we examined the Johnson, the Daisy 179 and the Sharpshooter. Today, we’re looking at a gun more than 150 years old and far more powerful than any catapult gun we’ve looked at to-date.
In 1849, British seaman Richard E. Hodges patented a gun that used India elastic bands to propel – something! Nobody I have spoken with knows for sure what the gun shot, though the launcher is large enough to hold a .43-caliber lead ball weighing 120 grains. Airgun collector Larry Hannusch owns a Hodges and has used surgical rubber tubing to shoot it at low velocity. He estimates that a velocity in the 400 f.p.s. region might be possible with enough bands, but he would never subject his gun to that kind of stress.
The Hodges most likely shot harpoons, like a modern speargun. Collectors believe the gun was meant for foraging, so sportsmanship wouldn’t enter into the equation and a harpoon from a gun like this could easily dispatch a small deer or pig. Remember that Hodges was a seaman and would appreciate the utility of a gun that was impervious to rain and salt spray.
The gun is made of iron or steel, brass and wood and is about the size of a modern 1894 Winchester .30/30 rifle. At the front, there are two brass figures of Roman soldiers projecting in a V away from the “muzzle.” These figures are the front holders for the looped elastic bands. The launcher slides in a captive track and has two brass pins sticking straight out to the side to hold the rear part of the bands. At the rear of the launcher, a flat bar with a slot cut in it sticks back to catch the gun’s sear.
The launcher has been slid to the rear to latch with the sear. The two brass pins that hold the elastic bands can be seen here. The breech cover is swung to the side so we may look into the breech and see the interaction of the sear with the launcher.
Here you see the flat bar from the rear of the launcher. The sear has not been positioned, but you can just see the lever that does it at the top of the photo.
To cock the gun, the launcher is slid back without the rubber bands attached to its pins. A lever on the right side of the receiver swings the sear up to catch the launcher and hold it fast. When the sear catches it, it stays in place and the bands are stretched one at a time until the shooter is satisfied. Use as many bands as will fit on the pins, although too many will cause the pins to start bending. You don’t want that!
Is this an AIR gun?
No, it is not. But neither is a CO2 gun, if you want to get technical. I include things like this in my discussion of airguns because nobody else seems to write much about them. That does push me into the neighborhood of crossbows, slingshots and even firearms, when I write about the BB gun that use caps. That’s why I pay attention to airsoft, which is another niche some airgunners don’t want to acknowledge. They are airguns the same as anything else we study. In the end, I think guns like the Hodges are good to know about, so we don’t make mistakes like the Colorado gunsmith who recently tried to patent a pellet rifle powered by a primer. The idea was already a century-and-a-half old when he applied!